I went for dinner at a restaurant last night, something I have done countless times.
I am fully aware of the process involved; I choose from the menu, I tell the waiter my choice, the waiter brings it to me, I eat it. This procedure has always, and will always be the same. So why then is the whole process so often such a shambolic experience?
It’s all downhill from when the waiter asks ‘Are you ready to order?’. So often at this point, I am genuinely taken a back.
‘How strange. A little man with a notebook has crept up on me and is asking what I’d like to eat. This has caught me most unprepared’ I think.
In reality, of course I am ready to order. I also know that everyone else at my table is ready, seeing as I’ve just spent seven minutes discussing the merits of getting a pizza over a pasta (the fail safe reasoning ‘But you can make pasta yourself at home, you can’t with a pizza…’ will undoubtedly have been used.)
Yet suddenly, in front of the man with the notepad, it seems confusing and rather presumptuous for me to jump in and answer for everyone else. Cue frantic mutterings around the table of ‘Are you ready…? I’m ready, but are you ready?’. Then as these mumblings begin to crescendo, someone in the group feels compelled to take charge. They grab hold of the situation by boldly and solemnly declaring that ‘Yes…we are ready,’
That person is now The Leader of your indecisive dining quiz team. If this were University Challenge, they’d sit second from the right. They shall forever more (until you pay the bill) be your spokesperson.
But then there comes the minefield of ordering. The quiet chaos continues. Who goes when? Who orders what if you’ve decided to pair up and go half-and-half? And who, in a pure state of bewilderment, will unleash the most desperate diner plea of all; ‘I still don’t know what I want… I’ll go last’?
Once again it’s down to The Leader to bring things into line. They do this by decreeing who shall be the first to place their order, by saying a name in a questionning tone.
For example: ‘Gemma?’
And so, as they go round the table, like a teacher with a register, it is ensured that all this wayward group shall eat tonight. The Leader is a hero.
All that leaves is the tricky ‘water’ conversation to be negotiated. It’s up to The Leader to specify that you’d like tap water rather than bottled water, but in a way that suggests a communal environmental conscious as opposed to sheer cheapness. Once this is done, you can all breathe easy until the food arrives.
But by then, at least 40% of your group will have forgotten what they ordered, which rises steadily to over 85% if you are in a restaurant which uses a foreign language.
‘Pizza fiorentina?’ barks the nice man holding the giant plates.
Once again his sudden appearance creates confusion. The blank faces around the table suggest that being presented with food in a restaurant is the last thing that was expected to happen. And so begin the discussions of who the fiorentina belongs to.
Whose is the fiorentina? What is a fiorentina? Is it a flower? Where are we? What was the question?
If Alzheimer diagnoses were based on menu choice recall, it would suggest that there are many young dementia sufferers amongst us. But don’t worry. The Leader will rectify the situation by embarking upon a spectacular directorial performance.
‘Right, the fiorentina has got an egg on it. Who ordered the pizza with an egg on it? Liz? That was you. And Sam and Matt, that’s your spaghetti with and pizza to share. Juliet, you’re back on Weight Watchers, that’s got to be your salad…’
Before long, everyone will be tucking in happily. You have nearly made it through the whole evening. But there is still the last remaining hurdle. The biggest of all.
The splitting of the bill.
When it arrives, the little silver tray is passed around like a crap game of pass-the-parcel. But instead of music cueing the stops, its journey only ends when The Leader pulls out their phone and opens the calculator app. (Along with losing memory skills in a restaurant, it’s also mandatory for people to loose all sense of basic maths. Even The Leader can’t be expected to calculate 12.5%.)
After eight separate card transactions (no one ever remembers to bring cash) and the printing of sixteen bits of paper, all that’s left is for one or two people to quietly whinge to no one in particular because they paid the same as Gemma who had a steak, and then the whole experience is complete.
The Leader leaves content, happy in the knowledge that when needed to, they stood up and were counted.
Everyone else leaves thinking,
‘What is Dave’s problem? Bossy prick.’